It was another disappointing end to a once promising season for the Minnesota Wild as they were again eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Not only was Minnesota beaten by the Blackhawks for the third year in a row, they were swept in rather embarrassing fashion. If the Wild is to ever figure out how to reach the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, it must start with a productive offseason. Here are my three keys to a successful offseason for the Minnesota Wild.
Figure Out the Goaltending
Devan Dubnyk was sensational for the Minnesota Wild last season on his way to winning the 2015 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and contending for the Vezina Trophy with the likes of Carey Price. While his numbers dropped in the playoffs, he still represents the Wild’s best option in goal at this juncture. Dubnyk becomes a free agent on July 1st and still has not agreed on a contract for next season with Minnesota.
Both Dubnyk and Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher have expressed the desire for him to be in Minnesota again next season. For Dubnyk, the idea of playing behind a team with solid defensive structure in a city he’s come to love should make it appealing for the 29-year-old netminder to return. Another draw has to be the opportunity that a long-term contract would represent for Dubnyk and his family to remain planted in one place; especially after they experienced constant relocation a couple of seasons ago as he bounced around to various teams while finding little success on the ice.
For the Wild, Dubnyk proved he can not only play the role of the consistent number one goaltender, but that he can do so at an elite level. While expecting Dubnyk to repeat his numbers from last year might be slightly unrealistic, one would think he is a better option at this juncture than Darcy Kuemper who has proven to be inconsistent even though he’s shown flashes of potential. Free agent options like Antii Niemi and Karri Ramo also exist as relative unknowns, but it is incumbent on the Wild and Dubnyk to reach a deal both parties can be satisfied with.
Veteran Niklas Backstrom also remains on the Wild roster but ostensibly will be bought out of his contract by the Wild. The man with the most wins between the pipes in Wild franchise history has struggled with injury and inconsistency the past couple of years and appears to be nearing the twilight of his career, at least in Minnesota. The bottom line is, it would be mutually beneficial for the Wild and Dubnyk to work out a deal to get him back in a Wild uniform for next season and seasons beyond.
Test the Market
Anytime a team has a season fall short such as the Wild’s did, it can be argued that changes have to be made in the organization; even if they are subtle changes. Barring anything dramatic, the Wild’s core will likely remain the same going into next season but that doesn’t mean that Fletcher doesn’t have any flexibility. As I write this, news broke via the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo that former University of Minnesota defenseman and Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick turned free agent has decided to sign with the Wild once he is officially allowed to sign a contract on July 1st.
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) June 26, 2015
Speculation was already floating around the future of Jared Spurgeon–who will enter the final season of his contract with Minnesota this season–and whether or not he is an expendable asset for the Wild in a trade this summer. Spurgeon figures to command a fair amount of money and term in his next contract and would perhaps price himself out of a new deal with Minnesota, a team already tip-toeing on the salary cap line.
Spurgeon is a valuable offensive weapon from the back-end with underrated defensive and physical capabilities that many teams might covet. The imminent signing of Reilly as well as the presence of Christian Folin and Jordan Leopold should add to all of this speculation and push Chuck Fletcher to at least explore Spurgeon’s trade value.
Perhaps nothing will come of it and the Wild will feel better with Spurgeon playing out the remainder of his contract and possibly leaving in free agency for nothing next summer. Either way, inquiring as to his value in a trade setting can be nothing but beneficial, especially if the Wild could bring back scoring help up front in the form of a center.
Something that plagued the Wild last season was a lack of progress and in some cases even a regression of sorts by some of the younger players. Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle had somewhat disappointing seasons based upon where they were projected to be after last year.
For the team to progress, those young players must also get better and start living up to their potential by having strong offseasons and coming back for camp ready to breakout. Players like Nino Neiderreiter and Jason Zucker who had fantastic seasons should look to build on those years. It goes without saying that successful teams build from within and it is especially true for the Wild, a team that has been active in free agency the past few seasons. Minnesota cannot continue to load up its roster with an endless stream of free agents.
If the Wild are to have a successful offseason and finally make a strong run at the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, the young players will have to step up in the offseason and take it upon themselves to get ready to take a couple of steps forward in the upcoming year and hopefully push the State of Hockey to a long overdue Stanley Cup Championship.
Nate has been a Minnesota Wild contributor at The Hockey Writers since 2014 and previously spent time covering the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team. For everything Minnesota Wild related, follow him on Twitter @natebauer.